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Facebook ‘Like’ of Campaign Post Gets Judge Disqualified

Sept. 27, 2019, 4:46 PM

A Kentucky judge was disqualified from a case involving the state’s governor and his re-election challenger over his “like” of a Facebook post seen as a political endorsement.

Judge Phillip Shepherd was removed from a case between Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, for “liking” a post discussing Beshear’s campaign.

The Sept. 27 ruling from Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton Jr. found Shepherd should have disqualified himself because his impartiality “might reasonably be questioned.”

“The body of law addressing judges’ use of social media is still developing nationally. But recent opinions emphasize that '[t]he code of judicial conduct’s restrictions on judges’ off-bench activities apply equally on social media as in other contexts,” Minton said in his order.

The state has already reprimanded privately two other judges for “liking” another Facebook post that ran them afoul of ethical mandates.

Shepherd had defended his impartiality by pointing out his bipartisan social-media habits: he also “liked” posts supportive of Bevin’s campaign and other Democratic and Republican candidates.

But Minton said two “likes” don’t make a right. “In fact,” he wrote, “those ‘likes’ constitute additional violations of Rule 4.1(A)(3),” the rule against judges publicly endorsing a candidate for any public office.

The case involves Bevin administration subpoenas of school teacher attendance records following a massive “sick out” protest of Bevin pension reform policies. Protests shut down schools in Louisville for several days, and labor officials sought records to potentially reprimand or fine teachers.

Bevin’s office praised the decision, while Beshear’s office promised to keep litigating to block subpoenas into teacher records.

The case is: In re: Kentucky, ex rel. Beshear v. Dickerson, Ky., No. 19-CI-00425, Order removing circuit court judge 9/27/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com